The Supreme Court Friday directed the Centre to deposit in its account the compensation given by Italy for the kin of two Indian fishermen killed by Italian Marines off the Kerala coast in February 2012. A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian said the top court will disburse the compensation to the fishermen's kin.
It said that one week after the compensation is deposited in its account, the top court will hear the Centre's plea for closure of case against the Italian Marines. During the hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said the victims' kin have consented for compensation of Rs 10 crore above the ex-gratia amount already paid in the case.
Mehta said the Centre has negotiated a good deal for the victims' families from the Italian government and it has been accepted by them. As you'd know, Indians are the best negotiators in terms of money, we negotiated for victims and Italian government has agreed. They have agreed on Rs 10 crores more than what they'd agreed before, he said. Mehta added that the Kerala government has told the foreign secretary that it had consulted the victims' families and they have consented in writing that they have agreed to the compensation.
Senior advocate Jaideep Gupta, appearing for the Kerala government, confirmed that the families have agreed to the compensation. The difficulty is that criminal proceedings are pending in international court and if international tribunal's order is accepted, trial court will have no jurisdiction, Mehta said, adding that closure of cases can be only done by the apex court only.
Gupta said that though the victims' kin have agreed to the compensation, the only stipulation is that the money be deposited in top court's funds before criminal proceedings are quashed. Mehta agreed to the submission of Gupta.
Advocate Unni Krishnan, appearing for one of the victims' kin, told the bench that some money has been paid to them but no amount is paid according to Tribunal award so far. The bench said that then it will order that the amount to be deposited in the Supreme Court's account. Krishnan said the entire crew of the fishing vessel was affected but other than kin of those two fishermen who were killed by the Italian marines, no one has been contacted.
A counsel for Italy said the amount to be given to the victims' kin will be paid to India through the Ministry of External Affairs. Mehta then told the bench that the amount given as per the tribunal's award of May 21, 2020, will be deposited in one week in the top court account after the money is received from Italy.
In February 2012, India had accused two Italian marines, Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre, on board the MV Enrica Lexie — an Italian flagged oil tanker — of killing two Indian fishermen who were on a fishing vessel in India's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). On August 7 last year, the top court had made it clear to the Centre that it would not pass any order on the plea seeking closure of cases against the two Italian marines without hearing the victims' families, who should be given adequate compensation.
The Centre had told the top court that Italy has assured the Indian government that it would prosecute the Marines there as per law and that maximum compensation will be ensured to the victims' family members. The apex court had said it appreciated the steps taken by Italy to prosecute these marines but the court was concerned with the adequate compensation to victims' family.
The Centre had earlier referred to the last year's ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at Hague which held that India was entitled to get compensation in the case but can't prosecute the marines due to official immunity enjoyed by them. On July 3 last year, the Centre had moved the top court seeking closure of judicial proceedings here against the Italian marines.
The Centre had said the arbitration under United Nation Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS), which was instituted on a request from Italy, has delivered its Award on May 21, 2020. It had said the Tribunal upheld the conduct of Indian authorities with respect to the incident and highlighted the material and moral harm suffered by the Indian fishermen on board the St. Antony on February 15, 2012.
Latorre, who had suffered a brain stroke on August 31, 2014, was first granted bail and allowed by the apex court on September 12, 2014 to go to Italy for four months and after that, extensions for his stay have been granted to him. In Italy, Latorre underwent a heart surgery after which the top court granted him extension of his stay in his native country.
On September 28, 2016, the apex court had allowed Latorre to remain in his country till the international arbitral tribunal decided the jurisdictional issue. On May 26, 2016, Girone was also granted bail with certain conditions and allowed by the top court to go to his country till the jurisdictional issue was decided.
The complaint against the marines was lodged by Freddy, the owner of fishing boat 'St Antony' in which two Kerala fishermen were killed when marines opened fire on them allegedly under the misconception that they were pirates.